Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Escape

By the time I left on my recent trip, I was in desperate need of a break.  I needed to not have to make life or death decisions and to not carry a pager and to not have to be witness to the inevitable human suffering that accompanies medicine.  I was spent.

Unfortunately, the Middle East is not the most relaxing place to visit*, and traveling with one's soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend and her family does not make the experience any easier.  At the end of my trip, I felt just as stressed as I had been at the beginning, and things have only gotten worse as a result of 1) the subsequent breakup and 2) a very long and busy week on call. 

Thankfully, I'm spending this upcoming weekend in Chicago.  My Mom turned 65 last December, and my brother and I decided to mark the occasion with a family getaway**.   We leave at 8:30 tomorrow morning, and I can't wait to be away.  I am ready to see beautiful architecture and eat tasty Top Chef winner cooking and not worry about anything.  All of the problems of the real world are just going to have to wait until Monday.


*Particularly as an LGBTTQ person.

**We deferred the trip until the weather was likely to be good and until my brother's and my call schedules aligned.  Bloody call.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Afterwards

Life is a strange contrast at the moment.  I am on call for the week, so my days are run-off-my-feet busy between my regular clinic schedule and the added inpatient service.  I am constantly scribbling notes in a chart while balancing my cell phone on my shoulder, or listening to my resident present a patient while I not so inconspicuously scan blood work on the computer.  I start my days anxious and I finish them overwhelmed, uncertain of where I will get the energy to do it all again tomorrow. 

And then I go home.  My pager is relatively silent most evenings, my apartment even more so.  My dining room table is empty, the jacket and wallet and keys that used to live there now scattered across the dining room table at my ex-girlfriends' family home.  Beyond feeding myself and the two cats, there is nothing that I have to do.  I read for a few minutes, then watch tv for a few minutes, then stare at the cats willing them to be better conversationalists.  Occasionally they purr, and I tell myself that they are trying to make me happy, although I am well aware that cats are inherently assholes.

I don't know what to do with myself.

For two years, my life was filled with her and with the bustle of activities that filled her restless, extroverted life.  The first day after the breakup, my introverted self reveled in the stillness of her absence, but as time passes stillness transforms into tedium.  There is no shortage of things I should do - the not quite unpacked suitcase from our trip is still on my bedroom floor, and there are always dishes - but I am longing to want to do something.  I am five-year-old me, whining at my mother: "I'm bored".

"Clean your room," she replies, and the answer is as unsatisfying now as it was 34 years ago.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Zero

Two major events happened last week.

First, I finally hit the zero point on my net worth.  After two years of budgeting and frugal(ish) living, I finally dug myself out of the hole that medical training and lots of careless spending created.  I feel a little bit lighter and a little bit less stressed, but it hasn't been quite as momentous an achievement as I had hoped.  Now that I am officially worthless (ha ha), I want to actually start accumulating some money.  An emergency fund!  A down payment on a home!  Apparently I'm incapable of being satisfied with where I am in life.

Second...I broke up with my girlfriend of two years.

It's hard to know what to say about this, because there are so many things at play in a breakup, and they never quite fit together into a coherent story.  It's inevitably messy.  I can say that it was my decision, that I had a sense it was coming for a while, that I'm doing okay.  That it is very strange to watch carloads of her things disappear from my small apartment and to see my old life emerging from underneath them.  That the worst thing in the world is hurting someone you love.  There is so much more.

For now, one of the many songs that I'm listening to, over and over again.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Home

Wow, that went by quickly.

After a day and a half of lying in bed, never far from the bathroom and a large bottle of water, we recovered from our food poisoning and resumed our traveling.  We had a few more days in Cairo, followed by three nights in Athens, three nights on a Greek island (Aegina), and a week in Amman, Jordan.  The days were very full, between being tourists and visiting family, so there never seemed to be a spare moment to update the blog.  Even my Facebook photos are a solid two weeks behind.

I would like to say more, but at the moment I've been awake and traveling for almost 26 hours (it's like being on call), and the cats get annoyed when I use my hands for typing instead of petting.  All I will say for now is that it was an amazing trip; the Middle East is a place unlike any I've ever been before.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The (Hopefully) Lowest Point of Our Trip

Me to my girlfriend at 3 am this morning:  "I think I'm going to have diarrhea again.  Do you need to vomit, or can I use the bathroom first?"

#alwayssaynotouncookedvegetables

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Cairo

It took three flights, almost 24 hours, and a small meltdown in the Frankfurt airport, but my girlfriend and I are now comfortably settled in an apartment in the Heliopolis neighbourhood of Cairo.  The two days since we arrived have been devoted to seeing as many people as possible (my girlfriend lived in Cairo for three years and, being an extrovert unlike me, left behind a long list of people who love and miss her), adjusting to the seven hour time difference, and challenging the defences of our gastrointestinal tracts with street foods.  Shawarma...mmmm...

As we were waiting in the airport in our home city, we ran into our accountant, who was waiting to fly to his vacation home in Phoenix.  The girlfriend and I were already in vacation mode, eating hot dogs and deciding which of the many ebooks we had downloaded to read first, while the accountant was surrounded by his computer and cell phone and stacks of papers.  When he saw us, he quickly picked up his phone to call the Canada Revenue Agency about an issue with my tax return, and after speaking with someone, he called over to me to let me know that he had resolved the issue.  His voice was eager, like a child seeking praise. "Look at me!  I'm on vacation but I'm still working for you!  Aren't I great?"

And then he chatted with us about where we were going and how long we were going to be away.  When I told him that we were traveling for three weeks, and that I had left all of my work at the hospital, a momentary flash of disgust passed over his face.  He recovered quickly, but he still made it clear that he didn't approve of my prolonged absence.  "Three weeks?  No doctor goes away for three weeks!  That's crazy!"

Which it shouldn't be.  When I am at work, I work very hard, often giving up lunches to finish paperwork and coming in early so that I can fit in another urgent patient.  So why on Earth should I have to apologize to my accountant about wanting to take some time away for myself?  Why does medicine (and North American society as a whole) fetishize work so much that people are viewed as weak or as failures if they choose to do anything other than work?

I refuse to apologize for not wanting to give my entire life to medicine.  The further I get into my career, the more I realize I'm going to have to fight the dominant culture of medicine in order to take time for myself, but I'm prepared to do that.  Life outside of medicine is too sweet to squander it all simply to meet other people's expectations of me.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Way Things Should Be

Like a number of my favourite bloggers (see here and here), I recently read Leo Babauta's post about how to not be frustrated all the time.  In the post, he argues that frustration arises from our desire for things to be different from how they are.

"It’s from not wanting things to be a certain way. Not wanting other people to behave a certain way. Not wanting ourselves to be a certain way."

 Yup.  Welcome to my life.  After reading the post, I started paying attention to how much mental energy I expend wishing that things were different, and I was shocked by the fact that there is pretty much a never ending stream of thought going through my head that judges everything in my life as inadequate.  For example:

When waking up in the morning: "I wish it wasn't Tuesday and that I didn't have to get up and go for a run, because I'm tired and want to stay in bed under the warm covers and running sucks and I'm out of shape and I'm never going to get in shape anyway."

When walking to clinic:  "I wish I didn't have so many patients booked because I'm sure some of them are going to be really challenging and then I'm going to feel rushed, and feeling rushed makes me stressed, and I hate being stressed, and if I were a better doctor I would never feel stressed."

When dictating:  " I hate dictating, it's so boring and it takes so much time, and I don't have enough time for fun things or for more important work because I'm always spending time dictating, and if I were a better doctor I wouldn't take so long to do my dictations."

When leaving work:  "It's nice that work is over, but the evenings are never long enough, and I have to do things that aren't fun like cook supper and wash dishes and that always ruins the little bit of time I have when I'm not working."

And on and on and on.  The funny thing is, before paying attention to my thoughts, I would have described myself as a positive person.   I'm generally pretty happy, and I'm usually able to find the positive side of a situation, so I was shocked to realize just how much negative crap goes through my head on a daily basis.

Once I was conscious of my thought patterns, I realized how incredibly draining all of the negative crap is.  So I'm trying to change it.  I'm trying to follow Babauta's advice to become aware of my frustration and to let go of my expectation that things will always go my way.

"You want things to go your way, want people to behave the way you want them to. But you don’t and can’t control the universe. You aren’t entitled to getting everything your way."

Now, when I start down the horrible negative thought death spiral, I try to catch myself and be aware of it.  And then I try simply to not engage in all of the negative thinking (sometimes easier said than done).  I acknowledge that I would rather be on my couch drinking an Old Fashioned than sitting in my office doing my 12th dictation of the day, but that isn't my reality.  Or that I wish my girlfriend wouldn't look like she's on a terrifying roller coaster ride every time I drive, but that is my reality.  And I am better off accepting these things (as much as I can) than I am constantly raging against them.

The amazing thing to me is that it's actually helping.  I don't dread dictations and paperwork nearly as much as I used to, and I'm more efficient at them because I'm not wasting time feeling like the most hard done by person on the face of the Earth.  I'm not freaking out when I take longer than planned with a patient, because I know that there is some cushion in my schedule, and life will go on even if my clinic runs overtime.  Things feel surprisingly easier, despite making what seems like a very minor change in my thinking.

Since that Babauta post, I've encountered the same ideas in a few different places.  (It's almost like the universe is trying to tell me something.)  I went to a workshop about physician burnout on Friday, and there was a session on mindfulness meditation that explored the same concepts.  I recently finished a really good book called 10% Happier, which is about a tv anchorman's experiences with mindfulness meditation.  The more I encounter the idea, the more I think I might benefit from spending more time exploring the concept of mindfulness.

Which will unfortunately have to wait, because on Thursday I hop on a plane for three weeks in Egypt, Greece, and Jordan.  While this sounds wonderful (vacation!), I'm honestly a bit terrified, because there are going to be some major challenges.  Such as 24 hours of travel, jet lag, staying in an apartment that is 100 stairs from the main floor (no elevator), highs of 44 C*, crowds, noise, and two out of three weeks spent with my girlfriend's family.  Oh, and the fact that most of the places we're traveling to hate the gays, so we'll have to pretend that we're roommates.  My goal for the trip (Let's call this my May goal, shall we?) is to be mindful of all the things about travel that frustrate me and to do my best to let go of them.

Or, at the very least, to not have a screaming match with my girlfriend in front of the pyramids.

*I think the hottest I've ever experienced was about 35 C, and I felt like I was going to die.